Peter Köhl (1842-†1890) - the emigrant

Peter came from the tanner family of Antoni Köhl (1678-†1748) and was thus also a descendant of the mayor Bernhard von Köhl. However, Peter met a similar fate as Simeon Köhl (1760-†1845): He was an illegitimate child of the butcher Anton Köhl and Luzia Meier[1], daughter of Vitus Meier and Anna Puff from Chur. Why there was no marriage is not known, but the father seems to have recognized the child as it should bear his name. As an illegitimate child, Peter lost his citizenship, but still had the status of a conditional citizen of the city of Chur. Only 1 year after the birth of the child, the father died of pneumonia. It seems that Peter was allowed to grow up with his mother or her family in Chur, there are no entries in the minutes of the poor commission and the guardianship authority.

Wife: Mary L. Schnabel
Children: 6
Occupation: Laborer

The birth of Johann Ulrich Merz

At the end of 1847 his mother Luzia became pregnant again. The father, Johannes Nepomuk Merz, did not want to marry the mother. So Luzia gave birth to another illegitimate boy, Johann Ulrich Merz, who was also taken in by his grandparents. Peter now had a brother 6 years younger.

When Peter was 8 years old, he was expelled from school for inappropriate behavior and placed in an orphanage for 1 year. There he also met the children of Isaak Köhl and Simeon Köhl, who were also housed in the orphanage at the same time. At the insistence of his mother and thanks to good behavior, Peter was allowed to return to his mother after 1 year[2] and now went to school in the newly opened Nikolai Schoolhouse.

In 1855, Peter was now 13 years old, his mother married the father of the illegitimate child, Johannes Nepomuk Merz, in Chur. He had a similar history as Peter, was an illegitimate child of Getrud Merz with a family father from Seitingen (Kingdom of Württemberg, DE), Franz Joseph Leopold. John Nepomuk had been raised without a father by his mother in Lugnez and was naturalized in Vigens in 1854. Through marriage, the illegitimate son Johann Ulrich Merz became legitimate after all. The family now lived in a flat at Bärenloch 14, right next to St. Martin's Church[13].

One year later, Johannes Nepomuk Merz bought half of the residential building at Bärenloch 11 and the store inside for himself and his small family[11]. From now on, the family lived in the middle of the old town of Chur. 2 years later, another common child, Friedrich Merz, joined the family. Johannes Nepomuk was now able to acquire the other half at Bärenloch 11. Peter lived with his mother, stepfather and his two half-brothers, Johann Ulrich and Friedrich, the following years in Bärenloch 11 in Chur and finished elementary school without further incidents.

Translated with (free version)

Whether he did an apprenticeship and what profession he learned is not known. But he seems to have behaved well and on his 20th birthday, together with his half-brother Johann Ulrich, he was accepted as a citizen of Chur by council resolution. There are indications that he lived in the canton of Zurich afterwards.

In 1864 Peter impregnated a Paulina Knecht, but did not want to marry her. So at the end of 1864 a daughter was born named Elisabeth Köhl. It was not until 1867 that the illegitimate child was then recognized in marriage and under inheritance law, presumably by Paulinas husband, Heinrich Honnegger[1]. 1 year earlier Peter had already emigrated to America.

Emigration to Indianapolis

On April 5, 1866, the ship Bavaria, coming from Hamburg, docked in New York[3]. Peter Köhl, 23 years old, was on board. He probably then traveled directly to Indianapolis and looked for a job there.

In the same year, a Marie Schnabel also traveled to America. Marie and was the youngest of 9 children of Johann Michael Schnabel and Eva Margaretha Pfitzenmaier. The family had been settled for generations in Unterheinriet, Weinberg, near Heilbronn in the Kingdom of Württemberg. Her older sister, Louisa Schnabel (29), had already emigrated to the USA in 1857, married a Heinrich Frech and already had two daughters. Her 2nd daughter was born in Indianapolis in 1864. She may have lived there before and invited her sister Marie to join her. It was in Indianapolis that Peter and Mary, as she now called herself, may have met.

3 years after their arrival, the two married and settled in Indianapolis, Indiana[4]. Peter had since changed his name to KOEHL and was working in Indianapolis as a retail salesman. In 1870, their first daughter, Louisa Koehl, was born. The child bore the same name as Mary's older sister.

In July 1871, Peter's half-brother, Johann Ulrich Merz of Chur, also emigrated to Indianapolis with his fiancée, Maria Dorothea Cabalzar of Alvaschein (GR)[5]. Peter's family continued to grow, adding daughter Kate L. and Anna. In 1874, his half-brother Johann Ulrich then married and also started a family in Indianapolis. After the birth of his first daughter, Johann Ulrich returned to Chur around 1876. According to the address book of the city of Chur from 1880, he lived at Bärenloch 6, very close to the home of his mother and stepfather. His occupation is listed as tradesman. Here 2 more children joined the Merz family.

His other half-brother, Friedrich Merz, seems to have been a very clever lad and in the meantime had attended the cantonal school in Chur. He successfully completed this in 1877 and moved to Zurich to study medicine at the Medical Faculty of the University of Zurich. There he passed the state examination in 1882 and then made a study visit to Berlin. In 1885 he married Emerita Bertha Berg in Zurich, returned to Chur and opened a practice.

Peter was already suffering from neuralgia (nerve disease) in 1880. At that time, living in the Koehl household at House 573 on West Pearl Street in Indianapolis were Louisa (9), Kate (7), Anna (5), Mary (4), Amelia (2), and John (¼). The three older daughters were already in school. The first son, John Frederic, had been born only a short time before[9]. Another son, Edward Henry and 2 daughters, Adelheide (Alda) Matilda and Calorine C. then completed the large family.

Around 1882, his half-brother Johann Ulrich Merz returned to Indianapolis. In 1883 Maria Dorothea Cabalzar gave birth to another daughter. Three more were to follow.

In 1885 his mother, Luzia Meier, passed away in faraway Switzerland. Her husband, Johannes Nepomuk Merz, must have separated from her some time before, since he had married a young woman, Elisabeth Hagen from Rüti, shortly before her death.

The early death of Peter

Then in 1888, their first-born daughter Louisa died at only 19. 2 years later Peter died in Indianapolis at only 48 years of age. Peter was buried in Crown Hill Cemetery in Indianapolis. His widow was left alone with their 8 minor children. It must have been a difficult time for the single mother. But also for his half-brother Johann Ulrich it must have been a great loss, because he and his half-brother had been through a lot together since their childhood, had emigrated together to Indianapolis, had founded their families here. Johann Ulrich Merz and Mary's sister Louisa Frech-Schnabel must certainly have supported Mary and her children during this difficult time.

The difficult legacy of Johann Nepomuk Merz

In 1892 Johannes Nepomuk Merz, stepfather of Peter and father of Johann Ulrich Merz, died. He still owned an apartment in the house at Bärloch 11, but had also taken on debts to his son Johann Ulrich. Therefore the widow Mary Schnabel-Koehl and Johann Ulrich Merz from Indianapoils contacted the authorities in Chur to clarify how the inheritance should be distributed[7]. The situation was rather complicated, since besides the stepson Peter and the biological son Johann Ulrich, Johannes Nepomuk's last wife and her 3-year-old daughter also claimed the inheritance.

"In response to an inquiry by Dr. Fr. Grugger as agent of the widow Maria Köhl-Schnabel in Indianapolis, who currently administers the assets of the deceased Johann Nepomuk Merz, it is to be answered that by the local office for Mr. Johann Ulrich Merz Mr. Advocate J Tarrer and for the minor daughters of the widow Mrs. Elisabeth Merz-Hagen, named Johanna Maria Clara Merz Mr. C Morath was appointed to the coop." [8].

A comprehensive deed of partition was drawn up and submitted to the guardianship authority. One point of contention was in particular a promissory bill for the sum of 6512.--, which had been issued by his son Johann Ulrich. Before his death, Johannes Nepomuk had signed over this promissory bill to his wife as a lifelong usufruct. In exchange, Johann Ulrich received the house at Bärloch 11 as a pledge. Shortly thereafter, this house was sold by the heirs to J. Poltera and the proceeds were divided among the heirs. Johann Ulrich probably received the largest part for the repayment of the promissory bill[12].

This inheritance must have helped Mary a lot. Unfortunately, Mary suffered another loss in 1895: Daughter Anna died in Indianapolis at only 21 years of age. Her daughter Kate L. Koehl-Smallwood would also pass away in 1902 at only 29. She left behind an infant daughter, Amelia Marie Smallwood, whom grandmother Mary took in.

In 1910 Mary (68) continued to live in Indianapolis Ward 15, Center Township, House No. 935 with her daughter Kate (37) and granddaughter Amelia Marie (12), as well as her son Edward (27) and daughter Carrie (22)[10]. Kate's husband, Joseph Smallwood, died shortly before, and Kate and her daughter moved in with Mary. All the other children had since married and were living with their families in Indianapolis.

In 1919, their eldest son, John Frederick, died at the age of 39. He left behind his wife with 6 minor children. In return, Mary Louisa Koehl-Schnabel was able to experience the birth of 22 grandchildren. She died in 1928 at the ripe old age of 85 surrounded by her family and was buried in Crown Hill Cemetery in Indianapolis like her husband who had died almost 40 years earlier.

Peter's half-brother Dr. med. Friedrich Merz rose to become an important personality in Chur, worked as a square, poor and prison doctor, looked after the Fontana children's home, led the cantonal deaf-mute association as president for many years, was a founding member of the Samaritan association in Chur[97]. For 25 years he belonged to the school board, for many years to the Great City Council and the Citizens' Council. He was also appointed guardian of various persons. Among others also of members of the family of Johann Jakob Köhl. In an obituary, Friedrich Merz is described as "warm-hearted, indefatigable and a friend of the poor."[98] His protected grave monument can be found in the city cemetery of Chur.

1892-09-23 Köhl Maria-Schnabel S68.jpg

Entry in the minutes of the Chur guardianship authority regarding the estate of Johann Merz (StAC BB III/09.001.007 S40)

The history of Peter Köhl is of interest in that he was the only Köhl emigrant to have descendants of the male line to the present time. Descendants of his son John Frederick Koehl (1880-†1919) and his sons Edward Frederick Koehl (1906-†1954) and Paul Antoni Koehl (1914-†2019) still live in Indianapolis and surrounding areas. Johann Ulrich Merz also had descendants who still live in Indianapolis today.


1: Bürgerregister StAGR S221 Nr.333

2: Protokolle Vormundschaftsbehörde, AB II/P 06.08 S210/279

3: United States Germans to America Index, 1850-1897

4: Indiana Marriages, 1780-1992

5: Indiana Marriages, 1780-1992, John O. Merz, 1874

6: United States Census, 1900, Indiana, Marion, ED 186 Center Township, Precinct 11 Indianapolis city Ward 15

7: Protokolle Vormundschaftsbehörde, StAC BB III/09.001.007 S40

8: Protokolle Vormundschaftsbehörde, StAC BB III/09.001.007 S68

9: United States Census, 1880

10: United States Census, 1910

11: Kaufprotokolle StAC B II 2.0019.099 Nr. 3121

12: Kaufprotokolle StAC B II 2.0019.099 Nr. 4955

13: Register Niedergelassene in der Stadt Chur, 1865, StAC BB III 01.008 037

97: Bündnerisches Monatsblatt 1914, Nekrolog Dr. Friedrich Merz

98: Askulap in Graubünden, Bündnerischer Ärzteverein, 1970

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